China’s carbon emissions drop for the first time since 2001

CHINA’S emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide fell last year for the first time in more than a decade, offering fresh evidence that efforts to control pollution in the nation of 1.4 billion people are gaining traction.

Total carbon emissions in the world’s second-biggest economy dropped 2 percent in 2014 compared with the previous year, the first drop since 2001, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimate based on preliminary energy demand data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

“Coal demand is slowing” while all other fuels, including oil, gas and renewables, are being consumed more, said Sophie Lu, a Beijing-based analyst at BNEF.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has identified shifting energy consumption in China as among the reasons global carbon-dioxide emissions also didn’t rise last year for the first time in 40 years without an economic crisis.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist who was named in February as the agency’s next executive director, told the Financial Times newspaper in an interview that the drop in global emissions absent economic disruption is unparalleled.

The China results are a glimmer of good news for the nation’s leaders and their push to clean up China’s environment.

In the battle to rein in pollution, China has cut its dependence on coal. The nation, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, has also poured money into clean energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydro developments.

Renewables investments

China led in renewables last year with investments of $89.5 billion, accounting for almost one out of every three dollars spent on clean energy in the world, according to BNEF figures released in January.

Domestic coal production is falling along with consumption.

China’s coal consumption fell 2.9 percent in 2014 from the previous year, the first drop in at least a decade, said Tian Miao, a Beijing-based analyst at North Square Blue Oak Ltd., a research company in London with a focus on China.

China’s energy consumption growth weakened to 3.8 percent in 2014, the lowest since 1998, as the economy expanded at its slowest pace since 1990.

The world’s biggest energy consumer got 11 percent of its primary energy from nonfossil fuels, including renewables and nuclear in 2014, up from 9.8 percent a year earlier, the National Energy Administration said on December 31. China is targeting 15 percent of its energy from such fuels by 2020.

Pollution mitigation

The proportion of coal fell to 64.2 percent last year from 66 percent in 2013, according to the NEA.

Hebei, China’s most polluted province, cut coal consumption by 15 million tons, closed 141 mines and stopped work to improve 478 mines last year, Chen Guoying, head of the provincial environmental protection department, said this week.

China plans to cap carbon emissions by 2030 under an agreement reached between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November.

A wider climate change accord is expected to be finalized in Paris climate talks in December after negotiations in Lima last year had ended with a plan for nations to commit to cut emissions. 

Image Credits: AP/Ng Han Guan

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